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GUYANA MOURNS: As death toll surpasses 18 in Mahdia school dorm fire

The Nation has been plunged into mourning with the death of several teenage girls who were students at a Madhia Secondary School and were housed in a heavily grilled-up dormitory when a fire broke out. Unconfirmed reports put the death toll at 20.

Many of those who died were teenage girls who hailed from far-flung villages within the Region Eight (Potaro/Siparuni) district.

Adonijch Jerome, the five-year-old son of the dormitory’s caregiver also perished in the fire. His parents were screaming as the inferno raged and ravaged the building.

While the exact cause of the fire is unknown, villagers have reported that the power supply was fluctuating prior to the fire which was observed around 23:30hrs on Sunday.

BIG Smith News Watch has been told that as the fire took over the building, the children were seen scurrying from the dormitory even as many screamed for help from the inside.

The fire quickly engulfed the building while the lone fire truck operated by the Guyana Fire Service responded to the scene. However, the truck ran out of water multiple times and left the scene to refill as the building blaze.

Residents attempted to enter the building, but the heavy grill work stymied their efforts. Some of the children who died were found crumpled in a corner of the gutted facility by the firemen.

In 2010, a fire in Mahdia ravaged several business establishments where twenty structures were destroyed in the commercial district of the region. It was after that fire that the government established a Fire Station in the area and equipped it with one fire tender. Many of the areas in the remote part of the country are without established fire-fighting capabilities including fire stations, due to the terrain of those areas.

Government’s response

Late on Sunday night into Monday morning, planeloads of response teams took off from the Eugene F Correia International Airport at Ogle for Mahdia carrying rescue and response kits including oxygen tanks and other medical supplies. President Irfaan Ali was among those on the ground at the airport coordinating the exercise.

In a statement issued early Monday morning, the Government of Guyana said, “All efforts are being made to have a full-scale medical evacuation-supported response.” The government said initial efforts were thwarted by the inclement weather and heavy overcast conditions which posed challenges to the exercise.

The government said the Ministry of Health and the Joint Services are collaborating to address the situation. “Our thoughts and prayers are with our children and their families at this time. We will continue to update as information becomes available,” the government said.

This is the second major fire to occur in Mahdia in recent times. In July 2010, a major fire swept through the commercial district of the town and flatted 20 businesses in its wake.

The scale of Sunday night’s fire is likely to leave a major impact on the town and the country as Independence Day approaches.